Comprehensive coverage is auto insurance that helps protect the value of your car if it is damaged or totaled due to events that are considered out of your control, such as falling tree branches or a hail storm. It also covers theft.
If you don’t own your vehicle outright, your lender will probably require that you buy comprehensive insurance, though it is otherwise considered optional coverage. It’s also a good idea to have comprehensive coverage if you have a car that you cannot afford to fix out of pocket.
Here’s a primer on how this type of insurance coverage works and how to decide whether to include it on your auto insurance policy.
What does comprehensive insurance cover?
Comprehensive insurance covers incidents other than car accidents — that’s what collision coverage is for — that are out of your control. These include:
Weather: hail, floods, windstorms, lightning, fire, wind-blown branches, and other natural disasters.
Theft: if your car is stolen, or if parts are taken, such as the catalytic converter that has recently been attracting thieves nationwide.
Vandalism: slashed tires, key scratches, broken windows, spray paint damage, substances put in the gas tank, or any other defacing.
Comprehensive car insurance can also help pay to fix your car if you strike an animal. Although comprehensive insurance is often referred to as “other than collision insurance,” colliding with a deer that runs in front of a car is generally considered outside of a driver’s control and falls under comprehensive coverage.
Comprehensive insurance will pay to either repair the damage or buy a vehicle of similar current value. In both cases, you pay a , which can be anywhere from $100 to $1,000 or more but typically is $500.
What is not covered by comprehensive insurance?
Comprehensive insurance does not cover damage from a traffic accident. In that case, repairs to your own car would be covered, up to your coverage limit, by either:
Nor does comprehensive insurance cover damage to other people’s cars if you were at fault in an accident. Your liability coverage does that.
Comprehensive insurance also does not cover medical expenses. These are covered by the other, at-fault driver’s liability insurance, or by your own personal injury protection or medical payments coverage.
Is comprehensive coverage the same as full coverage?
No, comprehensive insurance is different from full coverage, although the two are often mistaken. Nor does “fully comprehensive” mean anything in insurance.
Although the name makes it sound all-encompassing, comprehensive is merely one of the three major types of coverage. These are:
Liability auto insurance, which pays for other people’s injuries and property damage and is required.
Collision insurance, which covers damage to your own car caused by a traffic accident and may be optional.
Comprehensive auto insurance, which covers damage to your own car caused by a non-traffic event, like tornado damage or theft, and also is technically optional.
Full coverage car insurance is when a driver has all three types.
Is comprehensive insurance coverage mandatory?
No, comprehensive coverage is an optional add-on to your car insurance policy. No state requires comprehensive coverage, because it covers only your own car. However, if you do not own your car outright, your lender will likely require that you have full coverage, which includes comprehensive and collision coverage as well as the liability insurance required by your state.
If you fail to buy collision and comprehensive coverages, your lender will buy policies — very expensive policies — to protect the value of its collateral, then add them to your loan balance.
Evaluating your car insurance coverage needs
Comprehensive insurance is important if you could not comfortably afford to replace your car if it was stolen, totaled or damaged. Comprehensive insurance will pay to repair any damage caused by a covered event or, if your car is totaled, reimburse you for the actual cash value of your vehicle at the time of the incident, minus your deductible.
Keep in mind, if you owe more than the car’s estimated value at the time of the damage, you are still responsible for the balance. You can buy gap insurance to cover this unpaid loan balance.
Is comprehensive insurance expensive?
The average cost of comprehensive auto insurance nationally was $174 per year in 2020, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.
That was less than half the cost of the average collision insurance premium, which was $371 per year.
Costs vary greatly from state to state — from an average of $97 a year in California to $352 a year in Wyoming — but also from car to car. In general, the more it costs to repair or replace your car, the more you will pay for comprehensive insurance.
Your car insurance rates and premiums could also go up if you have filed previous insurance claims. Auto insurance companies like to recoup their losses.
How can I reduce my car insurance costs?
You can lower the cost of your comprehensive coverage by choosing a higher deductible or asking about car insurance discounts.
Discounts like product bundling — buying home and auto, or multiple auto lines, with the same insurer — can help slash your total auto insurance bill.
To lower your comprehensive insurance premium specifically, ask about car security devices. Anti-theft alarms and locks, GPS tracking systems, and stolen vehicle recovery systems like LoJack or VIN etching may slash your comprehensive premium by as much as 25 percent.
How to set your deductible
Your insurance deductible for comprehensive coverage depends on how much you want to pay for comprehensive coverage in your premium. The lower your deductible, the higher your premium, and vice versa.
While raising both your collision and comprehensive deductible can save money on your premiums, keep in mind that because comprehensive insurance costs so much less than collision, raising the comprehensive deductible alone may not make a big dent in your premiums.
Comprehensive deductibles typically range from $100 to $1,000. The average deductible drivers choose is $500.
When to drop comprehensive coverage
Deciding whether to drop comprehensive coverage is a common dilemma as the odometer on your car rises and the Blue Book value plummets. If you drive an older car, you probably wonder whether carrying comprehensive coverage is worth it.
The general advice is that if your annual premium plus the deductible add up to more than 10 percent of what it would cost to replace your vehicle, then the circumstances might be right to drop collision and comprehensive coverage.
But don’t drop your coverage if you need a car and are short on funds. A good rule of thumb is if you could not comfortably afford to pay to replace your car, then you should buy comprehensive coverage.
Either way, it’s always a good idea to periodically ask yourself, “How much car insurance do I need?”
Is it okay to just have comprehensive insurance?
Not exactly. Yes, you can choose to buy comprehensive insurance and not collision insurance if you own your car. This might make sense if you feel certain you won’t cause an accident but think your car could get stolen.
But you cannot go without liability car insurance, which is required in every state except in a few, rare situations.
What if my car is totaled?
Unfortunately, it is not out of the ordinary for vehicles to be totaled outside of traffic accidents. Totaled simply means the insurance company has determined it will cost more to repair the vehicle than it was worth at the time of the incident.
If your car is totaled by non-collision damage, such as a flood, animal strike, hurricane or other covered event, your comprehensive coverage will reimburse you for the value of the vehicle at the time of the loss, minus your deductible. This amount is negotiable to some degree and can include taxes and licensing costs you have already paid out.
Are there other things that comprehensive insurance will not cover?
Neither collision nor comprehensive car insurance covers damage due to normal wear and tear or mechanical issues. Comprehensive coverage will also not cover loss due to fraudulent activities. Basically, you cannot lie and claim your car was stolen if it wasn’t, or claim that you hit an animal if you actually dozed off and struck a tree.
Additional exclusions typically include the cost to repair modifications that your insurer didn’t agree to cover, or damage to your personal possessions.